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Challenges, fears of deaf children being raised by deaf parents

Health & Science
 Founder and Director of the Federation of Deaf Women Empowerment Network Aska Josephine. [Rosa Agutu, Standard]

Most children learn their first verbal words from their parents and guardians, but what happens when the person who is supposed to teach you your first words is deaf, and the only language they can teach you is sign language?

As a child, it can be confusing when you realise that your norm is not everyone else's. This is the story of most children who grew up with deaf parents, who are referred to as Children of Deaf Adults (Coda).

Pamela Ivonne grew up with both deaf parents, so sign language was the first language she knew. She realised her childhood was different from others after she started going to school.

“I came to the realisation that my mom was deaf when I was exposed to school. The teachers would ask me how are we communicating at home are we signing? They asked me so many questions that I wondered isn’t that normal. Because that is how I was raised, that was my household,” she says.

Pamela says that one of the challenges is that she had to learn to be an adult very early, and had to run errands on her own.

“I had to become self-reliant very early because of communication barriers. So I would go to the bank at a very early age, travelling by myself at a very early age,” she says.

Throughout her childhood, people kept asking uncomfortable questions.

“Another challenge would be from the outside community, sometimes they would ask so many questions and I would find it nagging, everybody is always asking me about it. I was also shocked what do you mean you have never met a deaf person,” she says.

Unlike other children, Pamela had delayed speech because her first language was sign language.

“According to my mum, I did have a bit of delayed speech because my first language was sign language. Then because I had hearing siblings it came a time of course I had to learn how to speak from them and from the neighbours,” she says.

Pamela’s mother Aska Josephine, Founder and Director of the Federation of Deaf Women Empowerment Network, became deaf when she was six years old after suffering from mumps. She went from being an active child to a child who had to rely on lip reading.

“By the time I became deaf, I didn’t know how to lip, I really cried my parents were also crying. My parents did not know any sign language so I was taken to a school for the deaf in Siaya called Nyang’oma where I learnt how to lip read and write, so when I went back home I could not write to my parents and lip read,” she says.

 Children who grew up with deaf parents are referred to as Children of Deaf Adults (Coda). [iStockphoto]

Growing up deaf had its fair share of challenges, from almost being raped to not having suitors.

“Most of the time deaf girls are raped or almost raped and it's always people known to them. The night I was almost raped I had gone to sleep in the hut with my siblings, but at night they left to go dancing. That is when the man came back and tried to rape me, when I touched his face I knew who it was so I screamed until my father came to my rescue. The man escaped,” she says.

Aska says that they decided to settle it because the man denied the charges and threatened to hurt her. She also says that she did not have suitors, she only focused on her chores and school.

“I was just in my mother’s house, because my parents felt being deaf it was best if I stayed with them. In the village in Luo land people said I would not marry because I was living in my mother’s house. I did not even go dancing, I would just fetch water and carry firewood and go back home. I would go to the posho mill with friends but I was just quiet I did not enjoy my youth. There was no man who wanted me,” she says.

Aska started her foundation to help deaf women and girls who have faced discrimination.

“We are abused and keep quiet, I felt I needed a platform where deaf women and girls’ issues can be heard and empower them and also help those who are victims of gender-based violence,” she says.

They would like to own a safe house for the victims; at the moment she hosts some of the girls and women.

On how she was able to communicate with her children, Aska had her firstborn son when she was 20 years old. Her sisters helped with raising her first two children, but she raised her last born Pamela on her own with the help of a deaf nanny.

Nickson Kakiri the National Chairperson of the Kenya National Association of the Deaf, says that after decades of advocating for the rights of deaf people and recognition of the Kenyan Sign Language, in the year 2010 article 7 3d recognised Kenyan sign language as a language.

 “Article 54 talks about accessibility of information through sign language. Article 120 of the Constitution recognises sign language as a business language in the Kenyan. Right now sign language is the official third language in the Republic of Kenya the advocacy is still on,” he says.

Right now there is a push for the Kenyan Sign Language bill in Parliament, which is being sponsored by Nominated MP Mohammed Umulkheir.

“The Constitution recognises three languages; English, Swahili and the Kenya Sign Language. However, only English and Swahili are taught in our schools. The first segment of the bill addresses incorporating sign language into our education system and making it compulsory.”

Including sign language in the curriculum would benefit about 2.7 million deaf Kenyans, a significant portion of the population. Umulkheir says Section 2 of the bill talks about the general structure of the language.

“We are dealing with five per cent of the population, that’s about 2.7 million people, who are deaf. that is not a small number, which is why we want sign language made compulsory,” says Umulkheir.

 Article 7 3d recognises Kenyan sign language as a language. [iStockphoto]

Foetal motion

Meresha Owiti, a sign language interpreter at KTN News says television interpretation is very demanding.

“From my interpretation world, this is so demanding. In seminars the speaker is just next to you, you can say pardon. But on TV you are stuck alone with a camera, you get the message, you don’t get it is up to you. The speed they use in news bulletins is not the same speakers use out there,” she says.

The other challenge is that the interpretation insert is very small, and the deaf struggle to see.

“As much as they say the box is tiny, they appreciate, at least they get first-hand news. It is not as bad as 10 years before,” she says.

Paediatrician Dr Adnaan Mustafa from Nairobi West Hospital, says that deafness can be detected during pregnancy via ultrasound. Foetal motion in response to sound and auditory evoked potential testing can determine the presence of fetal hearing in the third trimester of pregnancy.

"To determine hearing loss, there are some tests which can be done in a clinic which include rubbed fingers test and using the tuning fork - rinne and Weber test. Other tests which are usually done in an audiology centre include audiometry, auditory brain stem response, acoustic reflex testing, tympanometry among others," he says.

 If detected early, hearing loss can be managed using hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Audiologist, Dan Patrick Hwaga says there are two categories depending on the degree of hearing loss: Deaf and hard of hearing. It can also be genetic or acquired.

“We do several tests depending on the age. We have neo-natal tests that are done immediately after the child is born, then we have the auditory brainstem response (ABR) test, which is done when the child is 3 years,” he says.

From the tests, they will start immediate interventions and parents counselled on how to manage. Apart from genetic reasons, other causes can contribute to the pregnancy.

“From conception, there are other reasons like impact, and diseases. During birth, prolonged birth and during delivery there are things that can disturb the ears,” says Hwaga.

Hwaga says that these include exposure to loud noise. A mother coming from the clinic should avoid loud matatus, and excessive use of headphones.

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